The day came. The court hearing that would hopefully change our status to “adoption” and where further discussion of the termination of the mother’s rights would ensue. However this hearing went, we knew we’d be one step closer to forever, and we couldn’t wait.
After getting past security, we headed to the back waiting room that we were beginning to feel very familiar with. We didn’t see any of our case workers there, so we took a seat and waited. A few minutes later, the parent’s social worker appeared and began towards us.
“So… the mom is back in jail… I put in a request that she be transferred here, but I’m not sure if it went through.”
What. Did. He. Just. Say?
The mom would be here? Was she already here? Our eyes shot around the building… was she in the room with us and we didn’t even know? After all, we’d never seen her before. My mind started to race… What would this do to the case now? Would she want a chance to get cleaned up and get her daughter back? What would this do to the process of terminating her rights?
So many thoughts bombarded my head, but one really made me sweat…
What would her attitude be towards us? We had possession of her precious baby. Sure, she’d walked out on her… but would she harbor resentment, anger, or any other ill feelings towards us? I’m the type of person to avoid conflict at all cost… so this really unnerved me. If she was here, that would mean that we’d be in the same room in just a few minutes. Would she say anything to us? We had no idea what was about to happen.
Several minutes passed by before we got the go-ahead to enter the court room. As we sat down on the back pew like always, I remembered the pictures that I had stashed in my purse that morning to show her off, should any of the workers or the judge ask to see some. That morning, I’d carefully picked out three that I felt showed off her bubbly personality and how happy we were as a family. Gosh, we were a happy family. God, don’t let anything change that.
It wasn’t more than a few more minutes before the judge appeared at his side door.
“All rise, court is now in session.”
The mother wasn’t there. Did she not get the transfer notice? Did she not want to come?
Then a lady with long dark hair came out of that same side door and said, “Your honor, my client is ready to come out.” It was her attorney.
“She’s here,” I whispered to my husband and he squeezed my hand tighter. I felt so unprepared for this situation… how do you come face to face with the mother of “your” daughter? Do you watch her walk in? Make eye contact? I didn’t want to stare, she probably felt pretty judged as it was. I didn’t want her to think we were looking down on her. But I also didn’t want her to think I didn’t care by not looking at her. Oh boy…
At the door, a tall security officer appeared, followed by a young lady in an orange jump suit, another security guard following close behind her.
I looked just long enough to see that her hands were in handcuffs, and her feet were in shackles, a chain dragging with every step. I guess it startled me that she looked like such a… prisoner, even though I knew she was. One thing I wasn’t expecting, was how pretty she was.
I knew she was a drug addict and I guess I expected her to look the part. I expected her to have the bumpy red-splotchy skin you see on people’s mug shots, big blood-shot eyes, and wired-out hair.
But here, now seated in the middle of a long table, her attorney at her side, and a security guard standing post at either end of the table, was a petite young girl with gorgeous skin, beautiful brown eyes, and silky healthy hair. It was obvious now why Sweet Pea was so cute.
There was another thing I wasn’t prepared for… she was crying. Like, can’t catch her breath crying. Our eyes met for a brief moment and I smiled, but she looked away quickly, her sobs getting louder as I imagine the whole situation just got a lot more real for her. Her attorney handed her some tissue and she brought her chained hands up to her face. She was trying to keep her composure.
After what felt like minutes, the judge finally spoke up, calling on her attorney to do her part.
“Your honor, as you can see, my client is here today. We have talked thoroughly, and your honor… she would like to relinquish her rights.”
The mom’s sobs got louder. My heart stopped. My husband again squeezed my hand. What did she just say?
The judge seemed as surprised as we did. “Very well then… is your client aware of the magnitude of this decision? Have you explained the process to her?”
“I have, and she is, your honor. She understands that the foster parents have been in close contact with the baby’s biological grandmother and aunt, and she has heard from the grandmother how well the baby is doing and how much the foster family loves her. She is prepared to relinquish her rights so that the baby may be adopted by them, your honor.”
There are no words to describe what feelings rushed through me in that moment. But from the pit of my gut, I praised God. He was proving, yet again, just how in-control He was, and it floored me.
After several more minutes of discussion with the judge, he asked for an update on the baby from her guardian ad litem (basically, her attorney). He reeled off the latest information we’d given him, little milestones she had hit, and we smiled, proud of our girl and amazed at the moment. The judge then asked to see a picture, if we had any. We said we did and I pulled out the three that I had in my purse, and waited for further direction.
“Your honor, would it be alright if the foster parents approach the bench to show you the pictures?” one of the workers asked.
“Yes. Please, come up,” he replied.
We stood, my knees slightly trembling, knowing that in order to approach his bench we’d be walking just feet away from and past the mother.
When we got to his bench, we handed the photos up to him, and his for-three-months-had-seemed-so-intimidating face melted into a smile as he studied our girl. He carefully looked at all three before handing them back. And for a minute, he wasn’t the official judge in the courtroom… he resembled a proud grandpa as he chuckled, smiled at me with a twinkle in his eye and remarked, “What a cutie!”
Before we had a chance to sit down, the mother’s attorney stood up.
“Your honor, if she may, my client would love to see the pictures.”
The judge looked at the mother, her eyes hopeful.
“Of course,” he said.
Our worker took the pictures from us and handed them to the mother’s attorney. We continued back to our seats and sat down just in time to see the attorney hold the first photo up for the mother to see.
And she cried. She had maintained her composure for the past five minutes or so, but the second she saw Sweet Pea’s face, waterfalls streamed from her eyes. She tried to wipe them away with her shoulder so she could get a clear view. The attorney flipped through each of the photos, going back to whichever one the mom was asking for. And she just stared at her… and she cried.
It made me cry. I was so relieved. This woman who I was so afraid that I’d have nothing good to say about, cared. She cared that she left her baby. She cared that we loved her baby. She cared that the baby was happy and healthy. She no longer wanted to just be left alone. She wanted to do the right thing.
After looking at the pictures, I heard the mother ask her attorney if she could have them. The workers, after receiving the judge’s and our approval, said that they would get her some copies. I told them that she could take those ones, but, like everything else, they had to go through the proper steps. We’d later email them to her worker, who would then get them to her attorney, who would then print them for her.
When the hearing was over, the mom stood up, and was escorted out the side door, the two bodyguards again sandwiching her in.
Once the door was closed, and the judge had dismissed us, the handful of CYFD workers and attorneys turned to us.
“So she’s relinquishing…” we said, still amazed. “So what does that do to the process now?”
The lead worker spoke up, “It means it’s going to go much quicker!” she laughed. “You won’t have to do the termination process which can take several months. So next, we’ll have another hearing and that will be where she’ll relinquish her rights. From then on out, I’d imagine it should go pretty smoothly.”
When we got out to our car, we both were still in shock at what had just happened. After five months of missing and wanting nothing to do with any of it, she came back. And not only was she cooperative… she was on our side. She wanted us to adopt her baby. She cried upon seeing her baby, an image of which I will never forget, the moment I realized that no matter how messed up the mother’s life was, she did love her daughter.
Enough to let her go.
A moment later, as we were pulling out on the main road, I confessed to my husband my anxiety over what to do when she came into the room. I explained that I didn’t want to stare, so I just glanced quickly then looked away.
“So you didn’t see it then?” he asked.
“When she first walked in and saw us she mouthed something…. you really didn’t see it?”
“No… I didn’t… what did she say?”
“She said, “Thank you.”
(To continue the story, click here)